KINGSTON — Actor and comedian Tatanka Means visited two Kingston schools on Nov. 2 to share an important message with students: You can be happy, healthy and cool without drugs and alcohol.
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, students at Kingston Middle School and Kingston High School enjoyed a visit with the award-winning actor, stand-up comedian and motivational speaker, and learned a valuable lesson about the power of positivity.
Means, who is Lakota/Omaha/Navajo, is the son of Russell Means, the late political activist, actor, writer, and musician. The younger Means grew up in Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo reservation. He began his performance career in college, spreading laughter and his motivating messages in casinos, colleges, schools, and prisons.
Means has starred in more than 32 movies and TV shows, including “Saints & Strangers,” “A Million Ways to Die in The West” and “Tiger Eyes.” But he reflected on his youth and said growing up wasn’t always easy for him.
Students listened and learned about a boy with glasses who “fell in with the wrong crowd at school” and who was beaten down for being different.
“I was on the receiving end of being bullied,” he said. “I was pushed around and called names. These people that say something [in defense of others] are leaders. So, help each other out and be that leader to one another.”
He said it wasn’t until he found his positive outlet through boxing that his life began to change.
“My mom took me to the boxing gym,” he said. “I credit my boxing team [with] instilling discipline and perseverance in me.”
As Means took his skills from the ring to college, he found opportunities as a stuntman and then as an actor. Now, 11 years later, he’s found himself considered a role model for Native American youth and travels across the country.
“There’s engagement through comedy,” Means said. “It’s a way to always pull people back in. That’s part of my message: I’m proud to be an alcohol and drug-free sober performer. I spread the message about clean living and sobriety.”
He shared the importance of setting goals, finding positive outlets, and being confident.
“You have to overcome the enemy inside your mind,” he said. “You have to learn to use positive thinking as a tool to practice every single day. Make goals, set goals, and write them down. Put it out it into the universe and make it yours. See yourself doing and succeeding.”
Katie Patrick, a senior at Kingston High School, videotaped Means’ visit.
“It was definitely a different experience,” she reflected. “I felt a lot more connected to him and it was hilarious to watch. His comedy connected [with] the audience, and the level of engagement was high.”
As part of the school’s news team, Patrick said she was inspired to pursue her dreams and plans to edit her video footage and make it available to students who weren’t able to attend.
Nizhoni Price, who is S’Klallam and Navajo, got to hear Means twice. The 12-year-old attends Kingston Middle School, and accompanied her father, Joe Price, and other S’Klallams in welcoming Means with a song.
Nizhoni wants to be a lawyer and said she was inspired by what Means had to say.
Means said he hoped to empower listeners “to seize positive opportunities and live a clean lifestyle … I hope they take pride in who they are. I’m proud of my Tribes. My Indian heritage is in everything I do. It’s all rooted.
“You’ve got one life, one go-around. Do those things that make you happy, but be here in the moment.” He added, “I want them to be successful and grow up to do great things.”
School librarian Rachel Flores reached out to Means last year, after moving here from Florida and seeing the school’s cultural diversity.
With help from the Native American Education Department, they were able to “make it happen,” she said.
“Tatanka is somebody the kids can relate to. He brings a true and honest presentation. He’s showing kids they can reach their dreams.”